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With humor and humanity, Nancy McDonald Ladd calls religious progressives to greater authenticity and truth-telling rather than blind optimism.

Product Code: 6855
ISBN: 9781558968288
Publisher: Skinner House Books
Published Date: 01/16/2019
Pages: 184
Size: 8.5 x 5.5
Availability: Not currently available.
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Price: $16.00

Progressive faith is at a crossroads. Liberal pulpits ring with grand sermons about the arc that bends toward justice, and about progress "onward and upward forever." Meanwhile, the people in the pews struggle to attend to the suffering of their souls and the tragic aspects of life. In this engaging polemic, using stories and metaphor, Nancy McDonald Ladd issues a call for change. Speaking from a rising generation of clergy and lay leaders who formed their commitments to liberal religion at the end of the optimistic modernist age, she shows how the religious life is not characterized by endless human advancement, but by lurching movement, crisis-management, and pain.

With humor and humanity, Ladd calls religious progressives to greater authenticity and truth-telling rather than blind optimism. She charts a course forward that includes reclaiming rituals of atonement and lament, and becoming more vulnerable and accountable in our relationships. She shows how, together, we might build a necessary and greater resilience among ourselves and for the generations to come.

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Introduction: A Realist Spy among the Optimists

One: The Shadow of the Dead Utopias

Two: Twentieth-Century Modernists in the Twenty-First Century Church

Three: The Myth of Inevitable Progress

Four: Respectable Church People and the Kingdom of Godb

Five: The Will to Power and the Power of Mutuality

Six: We Are Not Going to Get This Right

Seven: Access to Atonement

Eight: Liturgies of Lament

Nine: Fundamentally Estranged, Inextricably Interconnected

Appendix A: On Prayers of Confession or Atonement

Appendix B: On Liturgies of Lament


"This project arises from my own discomfort at the certitude of the good liberal people I have come to love, to lead, and to serve alongside. It is also inspired by the faithfulness and courage many in my own Unitarian Universalist tradition are currently bringing to the work of dismantling of white supremacy and decentering whiteness in our institutions.

This effort to build a new way of worshipping and proclaiming hope in the liberal church does not depend on triumphal self-assurance. It is fueled daily by the resilience, truth-telling, and humble courage of the people who weep and laugh alongside me during daily parish life.

The people I serve tell the truth. There is a reason I can never seem to locate any tissue boxes in my office—those tissue boxes move all around the spaces we have made sacred, flowing as freely as the tears. As a minister, the invitation offered to me, day after day, week after week, is to somehow articulate the full truth of my people's deep human experience and deeper human longing, all while pointing us forward with both hope and commitment.

My abiding love for the progressive church stands in creative tension against the fundamental critiques of this book—liberal optimism, attachment to respectability, the centering of whiteness, and a progressivist view of history. These critiques apply to the congregation and the denomination in which I serve as acutely as anywhere else in the world of progressive religion. And yet these critiques cannot arise from less generous a sentiment than love for the people I serve—a love that would be greatly diminished if I remained too cautious or too comfortable to offer honest critique of the broader liberal religious culture that holds us all."

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